A/n: Yes, it's the last chapter of Letters! I've had bits of this chapter written since last year sometime, so it certainly feels great to finally get it out there.
As always, concrit and reviews in general are much appreciated and valued as inspiration!
Chapter 3 – The Promise
"I have a brother when I'm a brother in need.
I spend my whole time running,
He spends his running after me."
- The First Time, U2.
Leonardo let the last letter fall from his hands to the bed, where it rested on top of the pile of all the others. Raph's last words echoed in his mind. A waste of ink and a waste of time.
He felt curiously humbled. He'd seen something of his brother that he'd never seen before. He almost felt like he'd read Raph's personal diary rather than letters that were addressed to himself. All the things that Raph could never say out loud: here they were, laid out on paper before him. It was as if something precious and breakable had been placed directly into his two fumbling hands. He felt closer to Raph than he had in years.
But what would Raph think about that? Would he want Leo to go digging up all of this stuff again, when they'd been getting on so well recently? Of course he wouldn't, Leo knew that. But he also knew that you couldn't just shove these things under the rug (like Mikey would do when he was meant to be cleaning the lounge) and hope that one day they'd disappear completely. They needed a proper burial. He would talk to Raph, and just keep his fingers crossed that the whole thing wouldn't blow up spectacularly in his face.
This 'fingers crossed' approach was one that he often resorted to when it came to Raph. It didn't always work, of course, but Leo couldn't see that he had any other options.
Carefully, methodically, he refolded the letters one by one, placing them back into their envelopes. He was realising once again that sometimes, the act of making yourself vulnerable is really an act of strength.
Leo took a deliberate deep breath, tapped his knuckles against the door, and then pushed it open cautiously at the grunt of assent from inside.
Raph was tipped back in his chair, legs outstretched and crossed at the ankle, reading a motorcycling magazine. It occurred to Leo that Raph was the only one of them who didn't have a desk in his room, and he wondered where most of the letters that were currently clutched in his hand had been written.
Raph glanced up and seemed surprised to see who it was. "Hey Leo, what's up?" he looked at him enquiringly.
… Do I really never go in here except when I want something? Leo felt a momentary pang, and then shrugged it off and steeled himself. He lifted the letters slowly to display them, coming fully into the room and closing the door behind himself. "I found these on the front step this morning."
Leo saw the moment Raph recognised them, when his expression changed from mild puzzlement to a contained panic. He leaned forward in his chair, his eyes never leaving the bundle of letters in Leo's hand. His mouth opened slightly, but no words came out.
"There was a note with them," Leo tried to ease them out of the sudden silence. "They were returned by the post office in Central America. I never even knew they were there." He was hoping that sounded more like an apology than an excuse.
Raphael finally managed to contain his impression of a rabbit caught in headlights just long enough to get his eyes to latch onto Leo's face. "Didja read them?" He looked scared to hear the answer.
"… I read them."
If Raph was a real turtle at that moment, it was clear that he would have been trying to pull all of his limbs inside of his shell in an effort to disappear from view. "Crap," he breathed, covering his face with his hands.
"No, not 'crap'." Leo tried to keep his voice steady and reasonable.
"Very crap," Raph confirmed in a muffled voice, still hiding behind his hands. Leo gave a soft sigh and went to sit sideways on Raph's hammock, tilting his head back to lean against the wall.
"Why didn't you ever say anything… why didn't you ask me about them when I first got home?"
Raph managed to drag his hands away from his face, but he wouldn't even look in his brother's direction. "To save myself the feeling of absolute goddamn mortification, Leo, geez, what do ya think?" He sunk further down in his chair, his face a thundercloud. "This is fuckin' embarrassin'. Ya weren't sposed ta actually read them."
"I think you wanted me to," Leo said quietly, and Raph went still.
His brother's eyes flickered.
"I'm so sorry. If – if I had known – "
"Forget it," grunted Raph, not unkindly. "S'all in the past now anyway. We got beyond all that crap, right?" And his gaze lifted again to Leo's face, almost hopeful.
Leo's mouth tugged itself into a genuine smile. "Yeah, we did. But… there's a lot of stuff in here." He hefted the letters again. "Stuff we should probably talk about."
And to think, if the postmaster in the tiny Central American office hadn't been bothered or thoughtful enough to send them back, then he would never have even known.
"Do we hafta talk about it? I hate talking. Not talking about it was kinda the whole point."
"You were going to come after me," Leo murmured, half to himself.
There were a few thoughtful seconds of silence, where it became clear that Raph wasn't going to try anything so silly as denying it. Leo held the written proof in his hands, after all.
And what else was Leo supposed to say about that? Sure, he would have done the same, if it had been Raph who'd been gone for so long without word. But to know that his brother would have tracked him across the world, would have left behind every single thing he had ever known, with no idea where or how to start searching for him… and Raph must have known that it would have been hopeless, a lost cause, an impossible task.
And he would have done it anyway.
In retrospect, it was the most obvious thing for Raph to do. He was never one to be bothered by phenomenal odds. They served only to make him more determined. And yet he'd made the more difficult decision, for him, and stayed. Leo was relieved that he had.
"Are you angry?" he asked eventually, figuring it would be best to draw it out early on.
"I guess not." Raph looked surprised at his own answer. "Honestly… I think I'm kinda over being mad at you. It doesn't usually end well." A shadow crossed his face, and Leo could tell that he was thinking about that night before Winters Corp., and what had almost happened in the heat of the moment.
"Well." Leo looked down at the letters again, not liking to see that dark expression on his brother's face. "These are pretty personal things. I thought maybe you wouldn't like the idea of me reading them."
"Maybe 'like' is a strong word," Raph said wryly, giving himself a bit of a shake. "But they've got yer name on them, don't they? It's just weird. I don't think I even remember half the shit I wrote." He frowned again. "I just remember that most of it was stupid and embarrassing."
"It's not stupid to want to say how you feel." This earned Leo a snort of derogatory amusement from Raph, which seemed to restore their status quo somewhat and make them both more comfortable.
"Yeah, whatever, Oprah."
"Oh, shut up." Leo hmphed. "You know it's true. You really need to let these things out more often."
"Piss off," snorted Raph uncomfortably. "It was hard enough writing that stuff down, let alone sayin' it out loud. The only way I managed was by convincin' myself you weren't ever gonna read it anyway. And look how well that turned out."
"You know me," Leo smirked, "always messing with your plans."
"Yeah, you sure got that right."
"So that's one thing that hasn't changed. But it sounds like I did miss a lot while I was away."
"Uh huh. Wait, you're not gonna try apologising again, are ya? I mean, it's gettin' kinda repetitive."
"Okay, okay. On one condition, though."
Raph looked at him expectantly.
Leo took a breath, and did the thing where he mentally crossed his fingers. "Fill me in?"
So Raph did.
There were a few stops and starts and awkward moments in their conversation, but on the whole they talked more freely than they had in years. Raph told him about the little moments and the big ones, the ugly times and the times that made up for it. He was always a hard one to get talking, but once you did it came pouring out in a sort of inevitable rush. He even talked about how the Nightwatcher thing started, though Leo got the distinct impression that he left out a lot of the more stupid and death-defying stunts that he got up to on that bike.
Leo was all for openness, but he let those things go. There were some aspects of his younger brother's life that he probably just didn't want to know about. They wouldn't be good for his blood pressure.
At some point they'd both ended up sitting sideways on the hammock, leaning back against the wall with their legs dangling over the edge. They'd started out trying to give each other some space, but through the tilt of the fabric they ended up sliding towards the centre and sitting so close that their legs and shoulders were almost touching.
It was at that point that Leo realised, to his pleasant surprise, that he had not felt this comfortable in a very long time.
After stories that had grown increasingly outrageous and unlikely (almost, but not quite, worthy of Mikey's tall tales), Raph finally seemed to have run out of steam, and they sat together in a contented silence for a while until something new seemed to occur to him.
"That makes it your turn now, bro. So tell me about it – the stuff you saw."
"I'm sure you don't want to hear my boring travel stories, Raph."
"Sure I do."
"There's nothing great to tell. Greedy people doing ugly things. Poverty. Murder…"
"Yeah, yeah, I know about all that. But there must have been good stuff, too." Raph almost sounded wistful.
"… I don't want to seem like I'm rubbing it in your face, or –" He faltered to a stop at the exasperated surprise he saw in Raph's expression.
"Is that why you never talk about your time away? 'Cause you think we'll all just be jealous, or somethin'…? Jesus, Leo!" He ground his forehead into his palm.
"What?" asked Leo, feeling a bit lost.
"We all thought you were just keepin' your adventures to yerself because… well, cause you thought you were too good for us." Now Raph sounded a bit sheepish. Leo just looked at him in bewilderment.
"Come on!" Raph gesticulated a bit wildly. "You come home after being gone so long and don't say a word about where you've been or what you've been up to, what are we supposed ta think? You've been to all these places, seen all this stuff we've never even heard about, and we've just been sitting here at home looking at the same old city as always. Why would you have anythin' to say to us?"
"I just… didn't want to make you guys feel bad," Leo muttered, feeling stupider by the moment.
"So you're sayin' the whole silence thing was just a way to spare our feelings?"
They stared at each other mutely for a few seconds.
Leo couldn't help it. He began to laugh.
"It's not fuckin' funny," Raph grumbled, starting to look supremely pissed off.
"Sorry," he tried to compose himself, choking back his sniggers. "It's just… well… talk about your classic communication breakdown."
"And you say I'm bad." Raph grunted, and then heaved a long-suffering sigh. "So now we've got that crap sorted out. No more excuses. Spill."
"Well, okay…" Leo's expression went distant as he tried to figure out where to begin, knowing that he couldn't possibly cover it all in one conversation. "The rainforest was beautiful, I guess. There was… this tree that I'd climb, every morning, and the sunrise over the canopy of the valley was just… and there were birds in the most amazing colours, and all kinds of weird animals. Everything was so different there. The people, the food… The water tasted different. The air tasted different."
The wistful look on Raph's face was intensifying, so Leo finished: "And I was lonely as all hell. I missed you guys."
"Heh. Don't tell no one, but I'd prob'ly go a little crazy without Don and Mike around, too."
Leo rolled his eyes. "I missed all of you," he said pointedly.
Raph dropped his gaze and didn't say anything for a bit, but he looked kind of pleased.
"… Yeah. Still. Can't imagine what it would have been like, seeing all that stuff."
Leo spoke before he was even conscious of having made a decision, but he immediately felt the rightness of his words. "We'll go there, one day. All of us. Together."
"… Ya mean that?" Raph peered at him suspiciously, and the expression on his face was just so Raph-like – hoping, and at the same time trying not to hope – that Leo couldn't stop himself from slinging an arm around his brother's shoulders.
"It's a promise," he said.